Tag Archives: Composition

Artist Feature: Alex Ruger

Alex Ruger

You can only change where you are by truly knowing where you are, questioning your motivations and why you’re doing what you’re doing, being brutally honest with yourself. There’s no room for self-deception or ego in an artist’s life.

– Alex Ruger

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

AR: I grew up in central Indiana, studying piano and guitar and a bit of viola. I played in some bands–progressive rock, funk, jazz, lots of stuff. There wasn’t really a point where I “decided” that I’d be doing music for a living–it was just the obvious choice and always has been, so I went straight to Boston’s Berklee College of Music after graduating high school. My first two years at Berklee were mostly spent studying jazz guitar and working towards being a sort of jack-of-all-trades guitarist, but after a horrendous bout with tendinitis nearly ended my career before it had even began, I changed my focus to what, in retrospect, was my passion and goal all along: composition (and more specifically, writing music for movies, TV, and video games). After a couple years adjusting to my new trajectory, I graduated Berklee and moved to Los Angeles back in September 2013. Since then, I’ve been working for a few composers–including Bear McCreary and Penka Kouneva–and as a freelance composer, as well as balancing the odd producing, arranging, or mixing gig. I’m falling in love with the cultural and artistic melting pot that is LA–and the fact that I can go surfing pretty much any day is a nice plus.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AR: Refinement. Self-awareness and mindfully whittling away the unnecessary is an important and ongoing process for me–not just in my music, but throughout my life.

With regards to writing music, John Mayer said it better than I can. I’m paraphrasing, but he once said something to the effect of, “When you write, it’s like when you were a kid, throwing glitter on to a plate covered with glue. But it’s only when you shake off the glitter that doesn’t stick are you able to see the pattern it’s making.” That’s the fun part–shaking off the stuff that doesn’t stick.

When making music, that process is fun, but when you’re whittling away at yourself, it’s hard, and only recently have I begun to the see the patterns–thought processes, motivations, etc. You can only change where you are by truly knowing where you are, questioning your motivations and why you’re doing what you’re doing, being brutally honest with yourself. There’s no room for self-deception or ego in an artist’s life. And none of that introspection matters if you don’t have the courage to change and put what you’ve learned to work. It’s all about working towards a more refined version of you, and hopefully your art will reflect that.

How does your piece “Christmas 1914 in No Man’s Land” fit in with that definition?

AR: A great example of this is actually one of my non-film pieces, entitled “Christmas 1914 in No Man’s Land” (inspired by the Christmas Truce of World War I). It was a beautiful near-miracle that occurred right in the middle of what is quite possibly the nastiest war in human history–the two sides stopped fighting and enjoyed Christmas together. But it’s also a sad story–they began fighting again the next day. So the crux of the piece is an emotion that’s hard to describe–bittersweet comes closer than anything else, but it’s still not quite right. I guess that the saying, “Where words fail, music speaks” isn’t just some dumb phrase to put on refrigerator magnets!

To achieve this weird intersection of emotions, I really had to reel myself in and make sure that I wasn’t stepping on my own toes. Certain phrases needed room to speak, while others needed to be interrupted by the next one. Every note really mattered–it took a lot of “shaking off the glitter” to come to the end result. Even though I recorded it nearly a year ago, I’m still very happy with it. The number of things I want to go back and change is unusually low.

Alex Ruger - Conducting What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next? Continue reading

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Artist Feature: Adam Hopkins

Adam Hopkins is a composer and bassist living in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn by way of Baltimore, Maryland. As part of thriving music scenes in his hometown and his current city of residence, Adam tells an artistic tale of people coming together to create great music and community. Some of the groups he’s involved with, such as Signal Problems, have been around for years and thereby boast a unique group dynamic and musical language developed over time, which add intricacies to their exciting improvisations. Here, Reflection serves as the collective memory of the artist, while Response is a collective sharing and exploration of each participant’s story through sound. In our dialogue below, Adam delves specifically into two tracks, Pogo Stick and We Turn Around, and presents a video of the Adam Hopkins Quartet. He stays busy in New York and has various upcoming records with the several bands he participates in as leader and sideman. Peep the conversation below!

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own…it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined.

– Adam Hopkins

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at? 

AH: I currently live in Brooklyn, NY–Ditmas Park specifically. I don’t think I’d normally mention the neighborhood as part of a response to this question, but I really love where I live! A lot of my closest musical collaborators live within 3 blocks of me, and also there are trees. Lots and lots of trees, which is a bit different for Brooklyn.

I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. I left for college and grad school, but found myself back there in 2005. I consider that time in Baltimore until I moved to NY in 2011 to be the most formative years artistically of my life to this point. The music scene in Baltimore, specifically the creative and improvised music scene, is very small but at the same time full of talented and inspiring people. We started a bunch of bands, wrote new music for them, rehearsed a LOT (something that is much more rare in NY currently), made records, and played shows. It was the best, now that I think of it. In 2011 four of us decided to move to NY from Baltimore, and settled into a house in Bushwick with a great rehearsal space in the basement. That group of people, who basically moved up on the same day, was already a band called Signal Problems led by my former-roommate-but-still-friend Danny Gouker. We continue to rehearse all of the time, and still play regularly. In fact we just released our debut album on pfMentum records which can be checked out right here: http://www.pfmentum.com/PFMCD080.html. There are no subs in the group ever, which has helped maintain it as an actual band and not just a rotating group of potential people. So, you know…Baltimore sticks together wherever we are. 

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AH: As an improviser, reflection and response are at the very center of what occurs any time I play music, be it solo or with a group.

Reflection to me is everything that has happened in my life, musically or not, that has gotten me to where I am in that very moment. At my absolute best I am able to look inwardly and draw on all of those experiences to present a statement or vision that is uniquely my own.  

The response can be looked at from a number of angles, but primarily a response is what comes out of my instrument as a result of those experiences. Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own. It’s what makes improvised music like nothing else…we all bring our experiences from vastly different places to a performance, and as a group we find a way to make it work.

How does your work specifically fit in with that definition?

AH: This first track isn’t one of my own compositions, but I think it is a great example of this concept. It’s from Signal Problems, written by Danny Gouker who plays trumpet, with Eric Trudel on saxophone, Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums, and I’m playing bass. 

It is 30-seconds or so of written music and then we immediately launch into an improvisation. This band has been playing together for over five years, and we’ve developed our own sort of group language as a result. The entire improvised section is the band responding in the moment to everything going on around us. So again, it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined. 

This second track is a little bit older, but it’s one of my own compositions from 2011. It is a band that was started in Baltimore called Turn Around Norman, with Cam Collins on saxophone, JJ Wright on keyboards, Nathan Ellman-Bell (again) on drums, and myself on bass. 

There was a time when this entire band lived in New York as well, but life choices spread us out a bit and we don’t get to play together nearly as often as we’d like. It is a good example of my compositional approach, so I figured why not include it!? There is improvising in the track, but I think it is mostly influenced by the grunge rock of my high school years and my earliest musical experiences playing in dive clubs and wearing funny hats. There’s maybe a little disco at the end as well, and I’m not sure where that came from. It seeped into my musical being somewhere along the line. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Achilles Kallergis

Just a couple of months ago we connected with Achilles Kallergis at El Born, a dope Spanish restaurant down the street from us. This multi-faceted Brooklyn-based artist by way of Athens, Greece, and Switzerland utilizes his guitar to reflect on and respond to the various sets of stimuli that comprise the reality we live in. Achilles has recently dove into the art of Flamenco music and he celebrates the power and continuity of this folk art form that has handed down generations of style, melody, and story. Drawing on his global presence, his future projects involve recording albums with connected artists from around the world. In a piece that locates the power of song as a common denominator around the globe, Achilles breaks down the collaborative and improvisational possibilities of music.

Achilles Kallergis

Art is very esoteric and personal but it is also an attempt to connect and communicate with people, the need to feel part of the world, of a place, of a community. And that is a contradiction: the secret or mystic world of the artist crying out for contact and connection with the rest of the world.

– Achilles Kallergis

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

AK: I am from Athens, Greece and currently living in Brooklyn NYC for the past five years. I’m a musician, guitarist, and composer interested in both written and improvised music forms.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AK: Any artistic expression is a response or in response to something experienced. Art reflects life, lived or even un-lived experiences so reflection and response is always at the center of any piece of art.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

AK: Especially in improvised music (whatever the style) I think everything is response and reflection. It can be a response to a musical phrase, to one note or texture (even to the sound of the cash register at the bar). At the same time though it reflects the mood, personality and experiences of the performer. It is responding to and “being at the moment” while reflecting who you are. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

AK: Recently I’ve been getting obsessed with flamenco. It’s definitely a new art form for me which I started getting deeper into more recently. Definitely challenging in every aspect but also extremely deep in a unique way. It is really heavy and powerful music. Also, at a time where everything is about the next “new thing” or new sound it is very refreshing to go back to a folk music form, that does not claim to be innovative but strongly rooted in the history of its people. One that has been orally transmitted from generation to generation and that brings with it the tumultuous history of Gitanos, perhaps the most misunderstood and persecuted group in history. I feel this connection to the past is something that is missing from many new music idioms. Maybe flamenco showcases the importance of response and reflection – a response and reflection on the history of Gitanos by Gitanos.

In terms of new works, I’m looking forward to record two albums. The first one will be based entirely on my compositions and will document my working jazz quartet featuring Timo Vollbrecht on saxophone, Adam Hopkins on bass and Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums. I’ve been playing with these guys for a while now and I’m grateful cause they are all amazing musicians who manage to add a new dimensions to my music.

Another exciting future project is a collaboration with some musicians from Switzerland featuring Ganesh Geymeier, great saxophone player and improvisor, Michael Gabriele and Marc Olivier Savoy who are both members of Ouizzz one of my favorite bands (make sure that you check them out!). I will be joining them for a recording in Switzerland next summer and I am really happy to reconnect and play with these guys. 

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Noah Garabedian

Bassist and composer Noah Garabedian is originally from Berkeley, has lived in Los Angeles, and now resides in Brooklyn. It was a long time coming, but we were able to catch up with Noah recently at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn, where he played with his group The Slim Tones – a flat-out incredible set featuring their signature honking-tenor rhythm and blues. A hardworking craftsman, Noah plays with multiple groups spanning an eclectic range of sound and genre, including – along with The Slim Tones – Big Butter and the Egg Men, The Amigos Band, and the Rebirth Project. In the following dialogue, Noah breaks down his approach to music and discusses his current and future projects. Keep an eye out for a couple New York engagements this weekend and The Amigos Band’s upcoming tour in Southeast Asia in March. Check it!

Noah Garabedian

Everyone experiences countless provocations of the senses everyday, and reflection is the moment one takes to acknowledge its occurrence. Response is the way one acts after that experience.

– Noah Garabedian

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

NG: I’m from Berkeley, CA, and I currently live in Brooklyn, NY after 5 years in Los Angeles.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

NG: Reflection is the process of digesting material that has penetrated one’s exterior and provoked a reaction; whether it be within or out for all to see. Everyone experiences countless provocations of the senses everyday, and reflection is the moment one takes to acknowledge its occurrence. Response is the way one acts after that experience.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

NG: My current ensemble that I compose for is called Big Butter And The Egg Men. It is a sextet comprised of bass, drums, two tenor saxophones, alto sax, and trumpet. The compositions and sound of the group combine several influences of mine. I cannot help being influenced by experiences of my past, not only musical, and those inevitably show themselves in my writing and improvising.

As a music student, you are constantly told to understand and respect the history, the tradition, and the rules. Then you are told to throw it all out and to be creative and original. I suppose my own compositional process and my own approach to making music on the bandstand, is a response to my reflections of the past or just old habits I developed by rote.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

NG: I am currently excited to be working on two other projects. The first is The Amigos Band. We play all types of American music – country, Cajun, blues, and jazz. We just released our first full length album, Diner In The Sky, and on March 10 we will be representing the US State Department as musical ambassadors on a 5 week tour throughout Southeast Asia. The second project I am working on is called the Rebirth Project. The music I am currently writing for this project is traditional Armenian folk music, mixed with improvisation, and combined with a contemporary compositional aesthetic.

Who or what inspires you?

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Throwback December: A Sample of the Late Garageband Period

These three tracks come from the later garageband period. We still worked at Monterey Market, the produce market down the street from Peter’s parents house, where we recorded. On off days or after work we’d work these tunes out.

 

Shades of Green started as a jam over the guitar effect heard at the beginning and then revolves around a chord progression: E minor, F major, D minor. There’s a bridge on A major and some strings provided by V that finish the track up.

Shades of Green

 

taquito-hoope-sweesh-donke is a four piece track with various elements coming together to form our arrangement. We were messing with the idea of mixing distorted electric guitar and synth strings and brass which comes out around 1:40. We threw in some slide guitar to mix it up after that section to mix it up.

 

taquito-hoope-sweesh-donke

 

Complete Darkness comes from a chord progression that we wrote before the garageband days. This track has most of the components of this period of growth: guitar solos by P while the bass, keys, and synth strings are held down by V.

 

Complete Darkness

 

-Reflection and Response (even in progression)

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Throwback December: Brunch

Whatup LIFESTYLEfam!! We hope everybody’s enjoying the holiday season with family & friends!! Throwback December continues with these two tracks that formed from some of our early improv sessions … the Brunch series!!

Paris to Cairo.

Breakfast in Paris

Lunch in Cairo

Reflection and Response.

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Throwback December: Vamos! & Chan Chan

2004-2005. We moved up to garageband and started putting more influence on composition. These tracks reflect the influence of working at Monterey Market, a local produce store in Berkeley. Peep!!!

Vamos!

Chan Chan

Reflection and Response!

-P and V

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